(I’m fairly sure that few of you actually read these lengthy quotations and that’s fine; I continue to post them for my own future reference. And, quite frankly, it’s only 340 words or so—why does it make a difference if it’s original material or someone else’s?)
Tonight I finished Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Real Jesus, which was a pleasure to read. The last chapter and the epilogue were particularly rewarding. I wish I had read them before I finished preparing last Sunday’s sermon—they would have been helpful.
Johnson has this to say about Christian apologetics—whether historical, logical, philosophical, or what have you:
From the start, Christianity has been rooted in the paradoxical claim that a human being executed as a criminal is the source of God’s life-giving and transforming Spirit. From the start, this “good news” has been regarded as foolisness to the wise of the world. Christianity has never been able to “prove” its claims except by appeal to the experiences and convictions of those already convinced. The only real validation for the claim that Christ is what the creed claims him to be, that is, light from light, true God from true God, is to be found in the quality of life demonstrated by those who make this confession.
Only if Christians and Christian communities illustrate lives transformed according to the pattern of faithful obedience and loving service found in Jesus does their claim to live by the Spirit of Jesus have any validity. The claims of the gospel cannot be demonstrated logically. They cannot be proved historically. They can be validated only existentially by the witness of authentic Christian discipleship.
The more the church has sought to ground itself in something other than the transforming work of the Spirit, the more it has sought to defend itself against its cultured despisers by means of sophisticated apology, the more also it has missed the point of its existence, which is not to take a place within worldly wisdom but to bear witness to the reality of a God who transforms suffering and death with the power of new life.
Christianity has credibility, both with its own adherents and with is despisers, to the degree that it claims and lives by its own distinctive identity. This means, at a minimum, recognizing that Christianity is not measured by cultural expectations but by the experiences and convictions by which it lives. A church that has lost a sense of its boundaries–that is, a grasp of its self-definition—can only recovering it by reasserting its character as a community of faith with a canon of Scripture and a creed. (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels, pp. 168-69)
This isn’t a call for academic laziness or anti-intellectualism, but to not to try and justify faith on terms set by the wise of the world.
I suppose the notion of Jesus not being “provable” might be troubling to modern evangelical minds, yet there is something profoundly moving (and certainly Biblical) in what Johnson has to say.
I always enjoy authors who cut through the usual left-right/liberal-conservative jibber-jabber. Johnson appears to be one of them; N.T. Wright and Stanley Hauerwas are two others.